'Russia is wonderful, the locals always want a kickabout': England fans cycling to World Cup 2018

7 May, 2018 18:54
'Russia is wonderful, the locals always want a kickabout': England fans cycling to World Cup 2018
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Jamie Marriott (front row, center) and Mitchell Jones (back row, center) before a friendly football match in Siberia, where they say locals 'always wanted a kickaround' / Jamie Marriott

When England fan Jamie Marriott went for a lunch date with his girlfriend, the topic of football came up. The resulting chat saw Jamie committing to cycle 2,400km to watch the Three Lions at Russia 2018 next month.

Such a jump, from casual chit-chat to deciding on a mammoth journey across the European continent on just two wheels, may seem more like a quantum leap. However, there is method to the madness.

Once the seed had been planted, Jamie recruited friend and fellow explorer Mitchell Jones. The football-mad duo have a penchant for adventure and had accompanied each other on previous daring trips.

One quest to "experience different cultures head on" had taken the two on the Mongol Rally, which begins in Europe and passes through Mongolia to end in Ulan Ude, East Siberia, something which Jamie says was just "on the bucket list."

Now seeking new thrills and an entirely different route to Russia to watch their heroes at a major tournament (another bucket list item), the pair will pedal from Jamie's home village of Emsworth, Hampshire, through France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine, before entering Russia and rolling on to Volgograd for England's Group G opener with Tunisia on June 18.

The two will also be raising money for the The Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK, in memory of Mitchell's former football coach. Bobby Moore was England's 1966 World Cup-winning captain, who battled and ultimately succumbed to the disease aged just 51.

Western media has been quick to discourage England fans from visiting Russia this summer, especially given the current tense political landscape between the UK and Russia.

Undeterred and excited at the prospect of travelling again, Jamie told RT Sport of kickabouts with local Siberians, England's World Cup hopes and becoming reacquainted with famous Russian hospitality.

You'll be attempting to cycle 2,400 miles from the UK through France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine to Russia for the 2018 World Cup. Tell us a little bit about the backstory of this cycle - how did the idea come about?

I was having lunch with my girlfriend and we were discussing the World Cup and thought of a challenging and unconventional way to travel. I invited Mitch, who has previous cycling experience and he jumped straight at the opportunity.


You are raising money for the Bobby Moore Fund, is it a coincidence you are raising for England's World Cup-winning captain by cycling to the World Cup?

The main reason for raising money for the charity is because Mitch's Football coach growing up unfortunately passed away this year due to cancer, so we thought it would be a fitting memory to raise money for The Bobby Moore Fund as it has a really strong connection with football. Unfortunately, not long after, Mitch's grandad died as well. So it is something we have both been affected by.

How much training are you doing for the race and what does that entail?

Honestly, I haven't done any training yet and the likelihood is I won't either. Most people will consider it absolutely crazy not to do any, or even attempt to. However, it is exactly how Mitch and I prepared for John O’Groats to Land’s End, so we will go into the cycle in good spirits.


You previously travelled through Russia for the Mongol Rally car race. Tell us a little bit about your previous experiences in Russia and of Russian people.

Russia is a wonderful place, we have passed through Volgograd and Astrakhan in the south and included some of Siberia before. It was an extremely welcoming place, with very hospitable people and the locals always wanted a kickabout, so we are both looking forward to returning.

What are you looking forward to this time? What is your itinerary while in Russia and hat games will you go to, what sights will you see?

We will be attending all three England group matches in Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad. In between, we really want to visit Moscow and St Petersburg, two amazing cities where we have always wanted to visit. Fortunately, it has been made a lot more accessible without the need of a visa, so the Fan ID is a great move.

England fans account for only around 30,000 ticket sales for Russia 2018, why do you think that is?

I think the reason is due to length of travel and some difficulties getting from host city to city. I have also seen that a lot of places in Russia had hiked their prices up for the arrival of English supporters. Unlike France last year, where England fans would be able to take a day off and travel on the ferry, I think this takes a lot more effort and time off work, where some people just can't afford to do that.

What have you heard about Russia in England regarding the World Cup? Has it been negative?

I haven't heard anything negative about it in the press. I am sure there are some people trying to cast a shadow over Russia with what happened in Marseille. However, we are going with our own previous experiences in Russia and really looking forward to travelling.

Do you think it's safer to cycle across Europe or watch football in Russia?

I think they are both as safe as each other. I don't think either pose any great risk to our safety. We both enjoy cycling and travelling, so we regard this trip as extremely safe.


You live and work in Germany, what's the football fan culture like there?

Football fan culture is Germany is really good. Supporters are welcoming, friendly and accommodating, even as an expat. I certainly enjoy the safe standing at Union Berlin and very glad that multiple clubs in England have pushed this idea to get it discussed at the Houses [of parliament].

I believe it will inject a lot more atmosphere into home matches. Certainly at my club, Nottingham Forest, supporter groups such as Forza Garibaldi are making strides towards bringing the atmosphere and enjoyment of watching Forest matches again to many supporters.

And how would you celebrate if England won the World Cup? Something tells me you might not cycle back?

Unfortunately, I don't think we'll win it this year, but I think if we can reach the quarter finals or beyond it will be a success for this England side. I think we have both decided that we won't be cycling back. 2,400 miles is enough for this year! There might be other cycles on the horizon for us to complete.

By Danny Armstrong for RT Sport